COACHING MINUTE: Conveying Compassion through Spa Services for Patients

By Laura Malone, RN, BSN, MPA

One of my favorite healthcare speakers, Allison Massari, survived two life-threatening car accidents. She says, “Many of the most profound moments in my healing journey took place in a matter of mere seconds when a provider showed me that they cared. Compassion heals the places that medicine cannot touch.”

So, as healthcare providers, how do we go beyond the mechanics of tasks and tests and treatments and move to a place of care and compassion? It starts when we are fully present, focus on the moment, listen more than we talk, use appropriate touch and leave no room for judgement in the encounter.

Altru Health System in Grand Forks, North Dakota has created an entire program around healing therapies. Central to the program is the belief that rest and relaxation are an integral part of the healing process. And while the variety of services they provide range from music therapy to pet therapy to healing touch, perhaps none is more visible than their spa treatment program.

Walk through the hallways of Altru’s hospital on any given day, and you are likely to see a smiling employee decked out in hot pink scrubs pushing what appears to be a crash cart. But on this cart, you won’t find life-saving equipment. Instead, there are essential oils and lotions for a hand massage, bottles of nail polish, shaving supplies, hairstyling tools and even makeup. At Altru, patients can receive spa treatments in their room free of charge.

Being fully present and completely focused on serving the needs of the patient conveys compassion. As the provider administers the service, the patient hears:

  • I care about you.
  • I’m here to listen.
  • You are special.
  • Rest and relax, and enjoy this moment.

One spa provider shared the story of a patient who initially greeted her with indifference. But, after having his hair gently and compassionately shampooed and dried, as the caregiver was leaving, he earnestly said, “Thank you. I will never forget you”.

To meet and exceed our patients’ expectations, we must be intentional and mindful in our interactions. We need to carve out moments with our patients in which we push the pause button on tasks to purposefully communicate in a way that addresses the things that matter most to them. When was the last time you asked your patient, “What matters most to you today”? Often, it is small acts of kindness that have the biggest impact on those we serve. Maybe your organization cannot implement a full spa service, but what can you do to make your patients feel special, heard and valued?

With over 24 years of experience as a registered nurse and health care executive, Laura began her career as a Bone Marrow Transplant nurse and progressed into leadership roles. Her previous roles include emergency department manager, nurse administrator, executive director of numerous health care associations, and vice president of nursing for the Iowa Hospital Association.
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